Barkskins by Annie Proulx - review by Alex Blasdel

Alex Blasdel

Root & Branch



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Alexis de Tocqueville turned twenty-six in July 1831, somewhere amid the vast wilderness of America’s Michigan Territory. He had spent the past days travelling through a wood dominated by white pines rising ‘straight as a ship’s mast’ over forty metres high. The forest had heady, contradictory effects on the young man. ‘In but few years these impenetrable forests will have fallen … Thoughts of the savage, natural grandeur that is going to come to an end become mingled with splendid anticipations of the triumphant march of civilisation. One feels proud to be a man, and yet at the same time one experiences I cannot say what bitter regret at the power that God has granted us over nature.’

A century and a half or so later, Annie Proulx drove through ‘a scrap of a town’ on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There, on a scrubby hillside, she saw a sign proclaiming ‘something to the effect that on this spot the century before grew the greatest white-pine forest in the world,’

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